The world of sports gambling has undergone a transformative shift in recent years, with the widespread legalization of betting in numerous states. The Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) paved the way for the rapid expansion of legalized gambling, sportsbooks, and mobile gaming. As the realm of sports wagering continues to evolve, it becomes crucial for governing bodies to adapt and establish comprehensive guidelines to preserve the integrity of collegiate athletics.

In response to this shifting landscape, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has recently unveiled new gambling guidelines to address the challenges posed by legalized sports betting, while balancing the developmental needs of young athletes. These guidelines strive to strike a delicate equilibrium between upholding the integrity of college sports through the enactment of strict policies and acknowledging that college-aged athletes will make mistakes by providing opportunities for education and growth.

Under the new guidelines, athletes found to have bet on their games, influenced game outcomes, bet on other sports at their school, or provided information to someone engaged in sports betting will face a permanent collegiate ban. By reserving this zero-tolerance approach for clearly the most egregious of violations, the NCAA is sending a clear message that such actions will not be tolerated, including (or perhaps especially) in jurisdictions where sports gambling is now legal.

However, the NCAA also recognizes the potential for personal growth and learning from mistakes. Consequently, the guidelines likewise introduce more lenient reinstatement policies for certain, less serious gambling activities, thereby highlighting the importance of education and providing pathways for athletes to reclaim their eligibility. For example, athletes who place bets on another school competing in the same sport in which they participate could face suspensions of half a season. To become eligible for reinstatement, such athletes will have to complete an educational program on sports wagering rules.

The NCAA’s new guidelines also consider mitigating factors when imposing penalties. For example, athletes who engage in other forms of sports betting, such as betting on noncollege sports, will face consequences based on the total amount of money involved. Penalties escalate gradually, ranging from mandatory education programs for bets of $200 or less to eligibility loss for percentages of the season for higher amounts. The NCAA’s reinstatement staff retains the authority to impose additional penalties for significant wagering amounts exceeding a certain threshold. This approach recognizes the need for education and acknowledges that athletes may make mistakes but should be allowed to learn and grow from them.

Why It Matters

The NCAA’s adoption of new gambling guidelines marks a significant step toward addressing sports wagering within college sports and preserving the integrity of collegiate sports in the wake of the widespread legalization of sports gambling. By introducing permanent bans for certain violations and implementing more nuanced reinstatement policies for lesser violations, the NCAA aims to balance the need to maintain integrity, while providing opportunities for growth and education. As college sports continue to adapt to the evolving landscape of sports gambling, these guidelines will play a crucial role in shaping the behavior and responsibilities of student-athletes by serving as a cudgel for the most serious violations, but offering far more flexible and proportional punishments for lesser violations.

Moreover, the NCAA has long been the preeminent governing body in college athletics and one of the leading and most well-known governing bodies across all sports. As such, the NCAA’s actions may set a precedent (or at least a baseline) for other sports organizations and institutions, and other leagues and associations might take similar approaches. It serves as a reminder that maintaining the integrity of sports, particularly at the collegiate level, requires proactive measures and a commitment to adapting to the changing times.